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The Captain quandary

When Yankees’ captain Don Mattingly played for the Bombers (1982-1995), he was arguably the most popular athlete in the New York area sports scene. When Yankees’ captain Derek Jeter called the Bronx his professional home (1995-2014), he was arguably the most popular athlete in the Metropolitan area. Now, there’s an excellent chance that both men will be calling Miami their professional home for the foreseeable future.

Captain my Captain

Mattingly is in his second season as the manager of the Miami Marlins while Jeter recently headed up the group that purchased the Marlins. Jeter’s ownership bid came as no surprise to Mattingly when he was asked about it earlier this year.

“He’s always talked about it (ownership),” Mattingly said Wednesday afternoon before the Marlins played the Nationals. “I asked him if he wanted to coach and he’s like, ‘Never.'”

“I’m sure he’ll be good [as a theoretical future owner of a team]. Jeets pretty much seems to be good at everything he tries to do.”

The Marlins are in the process of finishing up an extremely disappointing campaign. While the team doesn’t have the talent of the NL Division champion Washington Nationals, they were at least expected to compete for a wild card spot. However, despite Giancarlo Stanton’s tremendous season (56 home runs as of this writing), the Marlins improved to just 72-80 after they completed a three-game sweep of the Mets on Wednesday. They finished three games under .500 last season and would have to win eight of their remaining 10 games to top that mark.

On a positive note, the Marlins, their fans, and the state of professional sports in Florida will finally be rid of owner and baseball con man Jeffrey Loria. However, it’s a worrisome time for any employee when their company is bought out. Generally, new team owners want their own handpicked people in place. The general manager usually wants his manager, coaches, and players, and so on.

All managers are hired to be fired. No matter how great, eventually there comes a time when a team and it’s skipper part company. That means that one day Derek Jeter will have to fire Don Mattingly. That could be a bad day for both men, and anyone who considers themselves a Yankees fan.

Jeter played under unusual circumstances – outside of a 15 game stint under Buck Showalter in 1995, he had only two managers, Joe Torre (1996-2007) and Joe Girardi (2008 – 2014) for his entire career. Mattingly, on the other hand, got to be a part of George Steinbrenner’s managerial “whims”. “Donnie Baseball” played for Billy Martin three times (1983, 1985, 1988), Yogi Berra (1984-1985), Lou Piniella on two different occasions (1986-1987, 1988), Dallas Green (1989), Bucky Dent (1989-1990), Stump Merrill (1990-1991), and Showalter (1992-1995).

Mattingly still has two years and $5MM on the table, which makes me think he’ll get a chance to manage the Fish in 2018. Jeter knows that stability in the front office and the dugout is a key to success, but should the Marlins get off to a bad start in 2018, would the beloved former captain give the axe to another beloved former captain? It’s a situation that is made even more difficult when you take into account the mutual admiration the two have for each other.

Though Jeter was up for only a small part of Mattingly’s final season in 1995, he got the chance to see how Mattingly conducted himself on the field and in the clubhouse. Mattingly came back as a Spring Training instructor (1997-2003) before he rejoined the team full-time as its hitting coach from 2004-2006. In 2007, he became the Yankees’ bench coach and was a finalist, along with Joe Girardi, to replace Joe Torre for the 2008 season. So even though the two didn’t play together, Mattingly definitely had an influence on Jeter’s career and his leadership style as a captain. Interviewed on Don Mattingly Day in 1997, Jeter expressed his thoughts succinctly about the former Yankees captain:

“Donnie is the perfect Yankee.”

Though he couldn’t be there, Mattingly recorded a video tribute for Jeter on #2’s retirement ceremony day this past May:

“Hey, Derek. Congratulations on your day,” Mattingly said. “Well deserved, as we all know. I want to thank you for myself, having a chance to watch you come into camp and become a great Yankee. I think on behalf of all the fans probably here today, for the way that you represented yourself, represented the Yankee organization, the way you played the game, the way you treated the fans speaks volumes of who you are. Congratulations.”

Jeter isn’t known to make snap decisions, so firing or retaining Mattingly will come with much thought and preparation. Those are qualities, along with work ethic that both men share. But if Mattingly is let go, will it affect the way Yankees fans view Jeter? Will there be an awkward Old Timers Day somewhere down the line?

Giancarlo Stanton… what to do?

Mattingly’s future is just one of the many decisions Jeter will have to make when it comes to running the Marlins. One of Loria’s final acts of foolishness aka “what was he thinking?”, was giving Stanton a 13-year, $325MM deal. Stanton made $14.5MM this season. Beginning next year, he’ll earn anywhere from $25M to $32MM per season through 2027 (the contract also includes a $25MM option/$10MM buyout for 2028).

You can’t win with just one great player and a few very good ones. Most pundits feel Stanton will be moved over the winter, but it will be difficult to make a deal due to the money involved, the agreement required on the prospects and veterans wanted, etc. How many teams can afford Stanton even if Miami picks up a good chunk of the cash owed?

At the moment, president of baseball operations Mike Hill and company would be responsible for trying to swing a deal. But, will that still be the case when the Jeter ownership group takes over? With just 10 more days left in the regular season, Spring Training 2018 will be here before you know it.